Monthly Archive for May, 2009

Why don’t more Davis High students bicycle to school?

The Davis Enterprise: May 22, 2009

Davis Bicycles! column #18

Title: Why don’t more Davis High students bicycle to school?
Author: Susan Handy

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Susan Handy has been delving into the question, why aren’t more people in Davis bicycling more often?

Lately, I’ve been spending much of my work time either in meetings about the obesity epidemic or in meetings about the climate change crisis. The glimmer of hope in these otherwise rather depressing meetings is the common solution to both problems: what we’re now calling “active travel,” namely walking and bicycling and other self-propelled modes of transportation.

If we could get people to walk and bicycle more, obesity would likely go down, as would emissions of greenhouse gases. But we know, from research by me and others, that active travel doesn’t happen if the environment doesn’t support it. By environment, I mean both the physical environment, i.e., the layout and design of the community, and the social environment, i.e., the prevalent attitudes within the community.

Invariably in these meetings, I start thinking about Davis. How lucky I am to live in a place that is so supportive of bicycling. Davis has an environment that makes bicycling a pleasure and quite often a greater convenience than driving. Being able to bicycle for most of my in-town needs is a huge part of my quality of life.

But then I turn to the big question: If the environment here is so good, why aren’t more people bicycling and bicycling more often?

As a faculty member at UC Davis, I’ve been doing research on this question with my students for a few years now. Some of you may have responded to an online survey we did a few years ago, or to one of the surveys we’ve done at AYSO soccer games (if so, thank you again!). Today I want to talk about our most recent survey, of students at Davis High.

How high school students get to and from campus is an important question for several reasons. Physical activity levels drop off as kids get older, particularly for girls. High school is also, of course, the time when kids transition from car passengers to car drivers. And the habits that they develop as teenagers often stay with them as adults. So if we could get kids to bicycle to school more, they would be better off now and later, as would the rest of us.

On April 1, with much help from science teacher Sherri Sandberg and students in the Environmental Club, we surveyed students at Davis High (including Da Vinci High on the main campus). The survey asked students to report how they get to and from school, and it asked them about a bunch of factors that might influence whether they bicycle to school or not.

Here are our preliminary and still-subject-to-change results: 35 percent of students are driven to the high school, 29 percent drive themselves to school, 26 percent bicycle, 5 percent walk, 4 percent take the bus, and the last 1 percent do something else (surprisingly few students, I should note, reported “donkey” or other equally unlikely modes). Granted, this is far more bicycling than the average suburban high school, but couldn’t it be more?

Although we have just started our analysis, several things jump out of the data. Students who bicycle are more likely feel confident in their bicycling ability and say that they like to bicycle. They are more likely to say that there is a safe route from home to school and that they don’t live too far from school to bicycle. They say their parents encourage them to bicycle and their parents themselves bicycle.

In contrast, students who drive or are driven to school say that they have lots of stuff to carry. They don’t like wearing helmets, they don’t like bicycling in bad weather, and the clothes they wear make it hard to bicycle. They think driving is the coolest way to get to school, and they worry more about what their peers think of them if they bicycle to school.

All this tells me that, if we want high school students to bicycle more, we need to make the bicycling environment in Davis even better than it is. But it also tells me that we need to change the way kids — and their parents — think about bicycling. Challenging? Yes. Impossible? No. Worth an increased effort on the part of city officials and community members alike? Definitely.

— Susan Handy has been happily bicycling with her family in Davis since 2002. She’s the director of the Sustainable Transportation Center at UC Davis. How to help

Who: Davis Bicycles! School Committee, PTA representatives and any interested local residents

What: Meeting to plan fall campaign to boost biking to elementary schools

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 27

Where: Blanchard Room, Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St., Davis

RSVP: Christal Waters, (530) 756-7006

An intro to shopping by bike

The Davis Enterprise: May 15, 2009

Davis Bicycles! column #17

Title: An intro to shopping by bike
Author: Anthony Palmere

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Anthony Palmere’s bike is equipped with baskets in the back for toting shopping bags home. Palmere suggests starting by pedaling to the Davis Farmers’ Market or Davis Food Co-op to pick up a few items.

Some people live too far from where they work to ride a bike for commuting, but everyone in Davis is within bicycling distance of a store. So why not consider riding your bike for shopping?

Of course, bicycling to do a week’s worth of grocery shopping may not be the best way to ease into the concept, but every household makes shopping trips that could easily be done on a bicycle. Once you have some practice, most anything you can carry to your car can also be transported with your bike.

There are several advantages to shopping by bicycle. You can get some exercise on the ride and usually park close to the store. Bicycling tends to encourage you to shop in a more “European style” — buying smaller quantities every few days. While that may sound a bit inefficient, it also has some advantages.

You can buy fresh foods knowing you will be eating them soon. You also can get to several different stores during each week and take advantage of different items being on sale. Finally, if you shop by bike, you find yourself doing all your shopping locally.

Shopping for small amounts requires no special equipment for your bike. You can simply bring a backpack or a canvas bag to sling over your shoulder or your handlebars (and if you forget to bring your bag, a plastic or paper bag with handles also works).

Once you are ready to buy a few more items, you can consider a basket for your bike, which increases your carrying capacity. The front baskets that are given away at “shop by bike” events (such as the one this past Saturday at the Farmers’ Market) are easy to put on your bike and also can be used as a shopping basket in the store.

I find that putting a lot of weight in a front basket makes me feel like the bike is off balance, so I prefer a back rack with folding baskets on the side, along with a bungee cord. The folding baskets are perfectly sized for a very full shopping bag or even two gallons of milk. Having the weight in the back is not really noticeable unless you have to go up a big hill (not too much of a problem here in Davis).

Eventually, if you want to carry large items or even a full week’s worth of groceries, you can move up to bigger accessories such as a trailer or oversized racks. With a trailer, I have carried home things like 40-pound bags of water softener salt and Christmas trees. So, it really is possible to buy almost anything by bike.

If you want to try it, the Farmers’ Market is a great place to start. It is so pleasant to ride right into Central Park, close to all the activity, without having to worry about finding a place to park your car. The fresh foods of the market are ideal for transporting by bike.

Of the traditional grocery stores in Davis, the best bicycle access is at the Davis Food Co-op and the Nugget Market in East Davis. Both have covered parking and easy-to-use bike racks. At the next level are the Safeway in South Davis, SaveMart in West Davis and the Nugget in South Davis. Those stores’ bicycle facilities have drawbacks related to the location and style of racks, but all are usable.

Everyone seems to agree that the worst place to shop by bike is the Safeway at The Marketplace, where the racks are very poorly located and extremely difficult to use (and parking a trailer there is hopeless). This is particularly unfortunate because, with no grocery store available west of Highway 113, Safeway is the closest grocery store for a large part of our population.

Of course, if more people shop by bike, the stores will want to provide better facilities for bikes. So, let’s get out there and use our bikes for something practical!

— After studying and working in transportation in Boston, Chicago and New York, Anthony finally made it to the alternative transportation mecca of Davis in 1993. He and his family have been pedaling around town ever since. When not behind the handlebars, Anthony is assistant general manager at Unitrans.

Odyssey of a new biker

The Davis Enterprise: May 8, 2009

Davis Bicycles! column #16

Title: Odyssey of a new biker
Author: Marla Stuart

I consider myself a cycling impostor; I think I’m really a swimmer. When I started swimming to get in shape for a backpacking trip in Yosemite, my goal was to swim the equivalent miles of Davis to Yosemite Valley. I didn’t manage all those miles, but kept on swimming after the trip, logging my laps in a spreadsheet and tracking my progress with pushpins on a U.S. map.

All this was working fine — I’d gotten to Fort Bridger, Wyoming — when the athletic club announced a months-long pool closing. I considered my options. I would have to eat less, resign myself to weight gain or find some other activity to burn those calories.

For some time, I’d been feeling guilty about my carbon footprint, driving solo to work every day to Rancho Cordova. I had an inspiring friend who combined cycling with public transit for her commute, but the pool closure pushed me to action. I visited Davis bike shops for information, worked out the finances, and scouted out possible cycling routes. I identified the safest route that would allow me to bike part way and give me multiple points to bail out and take public transit.

I bought a bike and took about two or three weekends practicing getting the bike on and off Yolobus and light rail and biking sections of the route I’d scoped out by car. By late October I was ready to begin. The timing was fortuitous. I had anticipated sneers of derision or looks of pity for the fat old lady who should know better than to wear Spandex in public. My story? I was running a dress rehearsal of my Halloween cycling costume.

Serendipitously, a group of cyclists at work who had participated in Bike Month the previous May wanted to keep the momentum going (figuratively, at least, if not literally). They formed the Mercy Cycling Club with a mission to improve employee health, decrease air pollution, and reduce traffic congestion. The first club ride occurred in November 2007 and I was immediately hooked into a supportive network of cyclists.

For the first five months, I did a quarter of my commute by bike: I rode to the Davis Amtrak station in the morning, caught light rail in Sacramento and rode to the office from the nearest light rail stop. In the evening I rode from Rancho Cordova to downtown Sacramento and caught Yolobus home.

On the last Friday of March, I decided to try riding all the way home. Again fortune was with me. Although the skies looked threatening, I had rain gear with me. I mentally reviewed all the light rail and bus stops at which I could bail. The rain started just as I passed my first option and I got soaked, but then it let up and rained only intermittently. Each time I was approaching a bail-out point the rain stopped, so I kept pedaling to stay warm rather than sit, soaking wet, at a rail or bus stop.

By the time I reached the last bail-out point in West Sacramento, I noticed that traffic on the causeway was stopped dead. Better to keep pedaling, I thought, than to sit on Yolobus dripping. The width of my grin grew in direct proportion to the number of vehicles I passed on the causeway. What a great feeling to be able go faster than the cars and buses on I-80!

After that first door-to-door ride in the rain, I continued to take public transit to work and to ride all the way back home. I stayed motivated through April with the goal of exceeding my March total during “May Is Bike Month.”

Although the swimming pool had reopened by then, biking had hooked me. And Mercy Cycling Club had created a great incentive: 1,000 miles of bike commuting scores a free club jersey. I was determined to get one. On my way to earning the jersey, I converted my swim maps to cycling maps and added some enhancements to my spreadsheet. My log now calculates how many gallons of gas I haven’t burned, how much CO2 hasn’t been added to the atmosphere, and how many extra pounds I’m not carrying.

A status check after 18 months of bike commuting: I’m still fat, I’m even older, my virtual swim is stalled in Wyoming, and all the biking miles I’ve accumulated fall short of the leading cyclists’ miles in May alone. On the other hand, I’ve earned my 1,000-mile jersey; my relatives in the Midwest are convinced that bicycle mania has overtaken California and have reconsidered moving here; I feel smug and self-righteous over my reduced carbon footprint; and I sleep really well.

— Marla Stuart rode her first ever metric century last Sunday and has grown even more smug. Join Marla in our region’s Million Mile May campaign by logging your May miles at